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The Mecklenburg 
Declaration of 




declaration of inoepenbence 

The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence 

as Mentioned in Records of 










In September, 1904, Mr. O. J. Lehman, of Bethania, N. C., 
discovered among the papers in the Moravian Archives at that 
place an historical sketch bearing on its cover the title: 


Aufsatz von den Vorkommenheiten 

wahrend dem Revolutions-Kriege 

welche einen Bezug 

auf die Wachau 


bis Ende 1779." 

In this paper Mr. Lehman found a pointed reference to the 
Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which he translated 
and sent to the Charlotte Observer. The paragraph and its 
translation are as follows: "Ich kan zu Ende des ijj^sten 
Jahres nicht unangemerkt lassen, dass schon im Sommer sel- 
bigen Jahres, das ist im May, Juny, oder July, die County Meck- 
lenburg in Nord Carolina sich fur so frey u. independent von 
England declarirte, u. solche Einrichtung zur Verwaltung der 
Gesetze unter sich machte, als jamalen der Continental Congress 
hernach ins Ganze gethan. Dieser Congress aber sahe dieses 
Verfahren als zu friihzeitig an." The words in italics are writ- 
ten in English script, the others in German. "I can not leave 
unmentioned at the end of the 1 775th year, that already in the 
summer of this year, that is in May, June or July, the County of 
Mecklenburg in North Carolina declared itself free and inde- 
pendent of England, and made such arrangements for the; ad- 
ministration of the laws among themselves, as later the Conti- 
nental Congress made for all. This Congress, however, con- 
sidered these proceedings premature." 

* Reprinted from The Wachovia Moravian of April. 1906. 

The publishing of this paragraph in 1904, and the printing of 
the fac-simile in December, 1905, accompanied by an article 
from the pen of Mr. Alexander Graham, has brought forth a 
number of letters inquiring as to the date and authorship of 
the "Fragment," which unfortunately lacks both date and sig- 
nature. These questions may be condensed into five, which 
cover the whole ground: 

1 i ) The authenticity of the Moravian Church Diaries is be- 
yond question, but this paper, by its title, is not a part of the 
Diary, but only a "Fragment" : can it be considered reliable ? 

(2) Taken alone the paragraph reads like a kind of post- 
script and was certainly written after 1775, since it refers to 
later proceedings of Congress : is it a part of the original docu- 

(3) Where was the paper written? 

(4) Who wrote it? 

( 5 ) When was it written ? 

A considerable amount of time, care, and research have been 
necessary before these questions could be satisfactorily an- 
swered, but the following statements may now be made : 

(/.) Can it be considered reliable? It was customary to keep 
the daily Church Diaries as concisely as possible, and any event 
which required more extended notice was written separately and 
filed with the Diaries. Memoirs, accounts of special Church 
services, historical sketches, etc., are classed together by Mora- 
vian Archivists under the technical name of "Beilage," the term 
employed by the earlier diarists, and this "Fragment" has its 
counterpart in a number of such papers written at different 
periods. Many of these "Beilage" are still between the pages 
of the Diaries, others have been taken out from time to time 
for reference, and when so removed the ascertaining of date and 
authorship is difficult, as practically none are signed. This 
arouses no surprise in the mind of any one who has worked 
among the records, for it was not customary to sign anything, 
even the carefully kept minutes of the various Boards give the 

te /, 

' - 

Facsimile of Reference to Mecklenburg Declaration. 

name and signature of neither chairman nor secretary. Appa- 
rently, to their minds, the subject of which they wrote was all- 
important, their own connection with it entirely secondary, but 
their painstaking accuracy is so marked that the careful stu- 
dent gives them entire confidence even while regretting that 
their custom did not conform to modern usage. 

(2. ) Is it a part of the original document? The "Fragment" 
is neither a diary, nor a mechanical compilation from a diary. 
It is an historical sketch, well written, clear-cut, showing keen 
insight into the affairs of the State and Nation, as well as the 
most intimate acquaintance with events in Wachovia. While 
for convenience the author divides his account into years, he 
frequently runs forward to link some result to its cause. For 
example, in reciting some of the events early in 1775, he states 
that the sailors on the English merchant ships in Charleston 
harbor, being unable to secure permission to land their cargoes, 
simply threw them overboard, so that they could load with rice 
and sail for home. Salt was one of the articles so destroyed, 
and he comments on the great scarcity of this prime necessity 
later on, and the suffering that the saving of this salt might have 
averted. Paper money claims his attention in each year's his- 
tory, but in speaking of the first issue without royal authority, 
in 1775, he notes its utter loss of value late in the war; and 
again, in 1777, he mentions the statement by the Assembly of 
1783 that the depreciation began in '77. The introduction of 
later developments into the Mecklenburg paragraph is, there- 
fore, quite in keeping with the rest of the paper ; and its form 
is also paralleled by similar additions at the close of other years, 
where items which had been omitted in the current account 
were added at the close. This paragraph is plainly a part of 
the original document, and entitled to all the credence that may 
be given to any part thereof. 

(5.) Where was it written? Although found in Bethania, this 
paper was most certainly written by a man who lived in Salem 
during the Revolutionary War. Not only does the whole story 

center about Salem, then already the principal town of Wacho- 
via, but events transpiring there are given with a certain inti- 
mate knowledge that can have no other explanation. The 
paper must have been taken to Bethania at some later date, per- 
haps in comparatively recent years. 

(4.) Who wrote it? The handwriting of the "Fragment" 
differs from that found in the Church Diaries of those years, 
and certain features in the paper itself suggested Traugott 
Bagge as its author. This was confirmed beyond a question 
by finding in the Land Office in Salem several Annual State- 
ments of the Store, written, dated and signed by Traugott 
Bagge. The script, though small, is unusually firm and dis- 
tinct, and it is possible to compare two specimens letter by 
letter. When this test is applied to the "Fragment," with these 
Annual Statements as the standard, the handwriting of the 
"Fragment" is found to be Bagge's throughout. Moreover, in 
the body of the "Fragment" there is given a list of the men who 
signed a certain paper explaining the position of the Moravians 
in regard to the war, and their neutrality, and in this list ap- 
pears the name of Traugott Bagge. Laid by the side of the 
signed Statements already alluded to, it becomes evident that 
this name is a genuine signature, and by the fortunate insertion 
of this list the signature of the author is contained in the body 
of the paper, although it does not appear at the end. 

This not only proves the author but guarantees the accuracy 
of statements in the "Fragment," for Bagge was the most able 
man of affairs in Wachovia during the War. At that time the 
Store was the center of trade for all the country round, and 
under Bagge's skillful management the necessaries of life were 
never entirely lacking for those who depended on his Store to 
supply them. His influence saved the town from financial ruin 
in the flood of paper currency which swept over the land ; and 
as he went to Charleston for supplies, to Hillsboro or Newbern 
to appear before the Assembly, or to Old Richmond to the 
County Courts, he was ever on the alert to watch the trend of 



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Statement of Moravian position during the Revolutionary War. 



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Facsimile of page showing Traugott Bagge's signature. 

events, and it was doubtless from the information he gained, 
and with the aid of his shrewd judgment that the ministers 
charged with control of affairs in Wachovia were able to lead 
their brethren safely through the very great perplexities and 
dangers that surrounded them. As merchant, financier, poli- 
tician, as a sturdy, conscientious man, Traugott Bagge ranks 
among the first in the history of the State. 

(5.) When was it written? The question of date presents 
the most difficulty, but by a process of elimination it has become 
possible to decide on the month and year in which it was writ- 
ten, and the occasion for it. A busy, active man like Traugott 
Bagge would not sit down and cover forty pages with close 
German script, running forty-two lines to the page, simply for 
amusement, and he did not live to an age when too abundant 
leisure would be an incentive thereto. The latest date in the 
"Fragment" is contained in the reference to the Assembly of 
1783, already mentioned. This Assembly met in the Spring, 
so the paper could not have been written before April, 1783. 
In the Diary of 1783, the first pertinent entry is on April iQth, 
when the Congregation is rejoiced to hear of the signing of 
peace preliminaries on January 2Oth at Paris. On July 4th, in 
response to a proclamation by the Governor of North Carolina, 
Salem had a great Peace Jubilee. The program is given in full, 
(see Cle well's History of Wachovia, p. 170), but no mention is 
made of historical papers. Under date of October 8th, the 
secretary of the Aeltesten Conferenz (the ruling board of Wa- 
chovia at that time) makes this entry: "The memoranda con- 
cerning the protection of God during the American War, which 
have been collected by Br. Peter, will be gone through at a 
special Conference meeting." On November 23d, the Congre- 
gation heard of the signing of the Peace Treaty on Septernber 
3d; and on December nth, in common with the Moravian Con- 
gregations in Pennsylvania, and by order of Congress, they 
celebrated a "Friedens Dankfest" by special prayer in the even- 
ing service. On December 3Oth, the Aeltesten Conferenz fixed 


the program for New Year's Eve; "The children shall have 
their closing meeting at three o'clock; the adult Congregation 
shall have a Lovefeast at eight in the evening, at ten o'clock 
the Memorabilia for this year and for the War shall be read, 
and the closing meeting shall follow at half past eleven." This 
is confirmed by the Diary for December 3ist, which says of the 
ten-o'clock service that they "remembered the many mercies 
which the Lord had showed them not only during the year, but 
throughout the eight years' War." It will be noted that Bagge's 
name does not appear, and the War Memorabilia, under title 
of "Lob und Dankopfer," read in the service and filed with the 
Diary, is in the handwriting of John Frederick Peter, then 
minister in Salem. But Peter did not come to Wachovia until 
1780, would therefore have had no knowledge of events prior 
to that time, and it seems evident that when he began to collect 
the memoranda which he presented to the Aeltesten Conferenz 
early in October, he turned to Bagge, who at his request wrote 
the "Fragment" under discussion. This explains why Bagge 
ended his account with December, 1779, for from then on 
Peter knew all the circumstances as well as he, and the closing 
then is otherwise inexplicable, for he stops just short of the 
time when Wachovia came directly in contact with the opposing 
forces, and passed the most perilous and most exciting days of 
her history. The paper was far too long to read in a one-hour 
service, but the "Lob und Dankopfer" is strikingly like a re- 
sume of Bagge's sketch, and the supposition that it is such is 
strengthened by the fact that in the Archives of Bethlehem, Pa., 
there are two copies of the "Lob und Dankopfer," one of which, 
evidently the rough copy, is in Peter's handwriting, while addi- 
tional notes pasted on the margin, and slipped loose between 
the leaves, are in Bagge's handwriting. The other, incorporat- 
ing many of these notes, is entirely in Peter's handwriting. 
That Bagge, having helped Peter prepare his paper, should 
later, without any apparent reason, take the trouble to amplify 
the sketch to the limits of the "Fragment," seems most improb- 


able, that he should in September have compiled his sketch, 
and then later assisted Peter to make a proper resume of it, is 
quite natural, and fully in accord with the prevailing interest 
in the close of the war. 

Traugott Bagge died in April, 1800, but a % close scrutiny of 
the Diary from January, 1784, on fails to give a single reason 
for the writing of such a paper. The Salem Congregation had 
a service every evening in the week, and steadily observed an- 
niversaries of various kinds, but Fourth of July and Third of 
September pass year after year, with record of the topic of the 
service, and no reference whatever to Declaration of Indepen- 
dence, or signing of Peace Treaty, or events of the war. 

Summing up the evidence, therefore, it may be definitely 
stated that the "Fragment" containing the Mecklenburg refer- 
ence belongs to the Salem "Beilage," and was written in Salem, 
by Traugott Bagge, about September, 1783. 

Winston-Sal em, North Carolina, 
April, 1906. 


"If the controversy over the Mecklenburg 'Declaration of Independ- 
ence' is ever settled, it will have to be done by genuine contemporary 


Secretary of the Historical Commission of South Carolina. 
The American Historical Review, 
April, 1906, page 553. 

"I have been much interested in the revival of the discussion concern- 
ing the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and particularly 
gratified that through your researches among the Archives of Wachovia 
you have found records which substantiate the claims made for this 
important event. 

"I am thoroughly familiar with the records, particularly of the 
Colonial and Revolutionary periods, of the Moravians in America, and 
esteem them, local and general, of the highest historical value." 

Librarian Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

Letter of January 21, 1907. 

"The discovery of the 'Bagge Manuscript' effectually sets at rest the 
question of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, except per- 
haps in the minds of those who are unwilling to consider the matter in 
a fair and unbiased light. 

"The Wachovia Archives are a series of records made contemporaneous 
with the events themselves, and form an unbroken history of the leading 
events of our section, and of the principal events of the State, and even 
of the country at large, from 1753 to the present day. In no case has the 
reliability of these archives ever been brought into question." 

Archivist of Wachovia. 

The Academy, Jan., 1907. 

"I think you have worked out very carefully this piece of evidence; 
and I congratulate you on your fair and truly scientific spirit of re- 


Trinity College, Durham, N. C. 
Letter of May 8, 1906. 


"1 wish to express my enthusiastic appreciation of the extremely in- 
teresting piece of historical criticism that you have written. It is cer- 
tainly most clear and convincing and seems to me to be the final word 
with regard to the document under examination." 

"Mr. Salley agrees with me that your conclusions are beyond criticism.'' 

DcfHir lineiit of Historical Research, 
Carnegie Institution of Washington, D. C. 
Letters of Mav !> and July 9. 190(i. 

"Here seems to be a sound chain of reasoning to establish the authen- 
ticity, authorship and date of the [Bagge] pamphlet. Once admitting 
that it was written in 178.3, or thereabouts, it must be conceded that the 
friends of the Mecklenburg Declaration have recovered a striking piece 
of evidence in support of their case. * * * Historians can no longer 
afford to treat the problem with the superstition of incredulity. They 
have now to deal, not with nebulous theories nor with hypotheses sus- 
tained by little more than the enthusiasm of local pride and patriotism ; 
but with concrete data which must be accepted or explained away." 


\orlli A iiH'i'ictin Rericir, July, 1900, p. 60. 


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